By Jay Holmes
Since the middle of February, when the fledgling protest movement coalesced into an active rebellion in Libya, many Western observers have been asking, “Who are the Libyan rebels?” Many Libyans, North Africans, and Middle Easterners are wondering the same thing.
A variety of prognosticators have offered up plenty of answers, but most of the answers they are peddling appear to be products of wishful thinking, or they are tainted by agendas. One way to recognize the degree of wishful thinking or propaganda in any given answer is to recognize the observer’s degree of certainty and confidence in his definition of the Libyan rebels. The most confident presenters with the simplest answers must be the least realistic analysts because there is, as yet, very little certainty available to any realist observing the events.
If and when a new government takes over in Libya, we will be able to observe its actions and compare them with the preceding rhetoric. In the meantime, all we can logically do is take a dispassionate view of the facts that are available and make an educated guess.
First, we should acknowledge that “the rebels” are not a single unified group that shares the same complex agenda. The only clear, common agenda that the rebels have thus far demonstrated is a desire to remove Uncle Momo and his various monkey spawn from power. So far, the closest thing to a leadership group that the rebels have presented to the West is the “National Council.” However, there are several other “teams in the league.” In Part I of this two-part installment, we will look at the Libyan National Council, and in Part II to be published this Sunday, we will give a glance at the other contenders.
Libyan National Council
The Libyan National Council is completely aware of the West’s questions concerning its agenda, and that likely influenced its choice of Mustafa Abdel Jalil as its leader. Jalil is a judge from eastern Libya and was Gadhafi’s Justice Minister. He had frequently publicly disagreed with Gadhafi during his tenure, but tribal affiliations made it convenient to keep him in office.
When Gadhafi announced that protesters would be “crushed,” Jalil resigned from the Libyan government. It seems clear that Jalil had contact with other members of the fledgling council prior to the February protests. His selection as head of the committee is likely based on the committee’s belief that he represents the best chance at gaining acceptance by the most Libyans from all of the various tribes and urbanized areas of the country. He was a member of the government that the rebels seek to destroy, but he has credentials as a dissenter.
The other two most visible members of the Libyan National Council are Ali al Eisawi and Mahmoud Jabril. Both of them are well-traveled and well-educated, and they were both involved in the opposition to Gadhafi prior to the February uprising. They both present a believable voice of reason to Libyans and to concerned Westerners. None of these three individuals are tainted by any known affiliation with Al-Qaeda, the home-grown Libyan Islamic Front, or radical factions within the Islamic brotherhood.
At present, there appear to be thirty-one members of the ruling committee of the National Council. They seem to be attempting to gain the broadest possible support from the widest variety of tribes and factions within Libya. On that note, the Council does include at least one Islamic Jihadist with direct ties to Al-Qaeda.
There is also Gadhafi’s recently “ex” Minister of Interior, Colonel Abdel-Fatah Younis. Younis’ defection may be motivated by his perception that the Uncle Momo Show was being canceled, and by his personal ties to eastern Libya. He offers the explanation that he quit the regime because he disapproved of the regime’s attacks on the protesters. However, he has been the chief organizer of crackdowns on opposition groups in Libya in the past. If Colonel Younis has something like a conscience, it would appear to be newly acquired. Where and why he got it is any ones guess. What he currently offers the National Council is vast experience at surviving opposition.
Publicly, the National Council states that it does not want any one individual to take control in Libya, that it wants democratic reforms, and that it is adamantly opposed to theocratic government. Though we have no way of administering lie detector tests to the National Council leadership, when we compare what we know about its key members’ actions and reputations prior to February of this year with their current behavior and rhetoric, they do seem to be consistent in their position.
The Libyan National Council claims to want a constitution that guarantees secular democracy and human rights. It claims to envision peaceful relations with the West and with their neighbors in North Africa. It has been silent on any position toward Israel, but it has much to lose and nothing to gain by announcing any intention toward that country. The Council would not want to further incite Al-Qaeda type radicals within Libya by announcing neutrality toward Israel, nor would they want to alienate the West by openly opposing Israel when they have yet to insure their own survival. While the Council and Israel will both remain silent about Israel (for now), Israel is likely doing its best to quietly establish a dialogue with these potential leaders of Libya. It is also likely that the National Council is quietly presenting more detailed positions to Western governments and to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates, but, for the short-term, they will need to keep those details quiet to enhance their own chances for survival.
The degree that the Libyan National Council is in charge and the percentage of the rebels who would claim to be represented by them are unknown, but there are signs this week that the Council is becoming more organized with each passing day. Nevertheless, as I mentioned, there are other teams in the league, and we will take a look at them in Part II this Sunday.